Pakistan coalmine blast death toll hits 45, survivors unlikely

QUETTA, Pakistan, March 21 Mon Mar 21, 2011 5:07am EDT

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QUETTA, Pakistan, March 21 (Reuters) - The death toll from Sunday's methane gas explosions in a coal mine in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan rose to 45 on Monday, government officials said, as hopes faded there would be any survivors from the disaster.

More than 50 miners were in the mine when three big explosions triggered by methane gas ripped through the caverns.

"Forty-five miners have died. We have retrieved 25 bodies so far," Aslam Bizenjo, provincial irrigation minister, told the provincial assembly.

Officials said the chances of finding the trapped workers alive were very slim because of a fire, which had consumed all the oxygen. Witnesses said the bodies had severe burns from the huge fire.

The mine, some 35 km (22 miles) from the provincial capital, Quetta, is owned by the state-run Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation and was leased to a contractor.

Mohammad Iftikhar, chief inspector of mines in the region, said the contactor had been asked to shut down the mine two weeks ago because of an excessive accumulation of methane gas.

Such explosions are not uncommon in coal mines in Pakistan, most of which are located in Baluchistan and neighbouring Sindh, where safety measures can be lax.

The country has huge coal reserves estimated at more than 184 billion tonnes. It produces 4 million tonnes of coal annually, most of which is consumed by brick-making kilns. (Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Daniel Magnowski)

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